My Secret Past As A Shopping Addict

My Secret Past As A Shopping Addict

You would probably never guess this about me if we met today, but I used to be addicted to shopping.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve stayed up late for midnight makeup releases just to snag coveted products. I purchased limited edition items based completely off of promotional shots and descriptions with leaked swatches. I felt a rush as I refreshed the page and the new collection became available. I frantically added the items on my list to the cart and my hands shook slightly as I clicked through to check out. When I got the order confirmation email, I’d breathe a sigh of relief. My heart pounded. Then, I’d go back and continue to refresh the page as the most popular items sold out. I took pleasure in watching the ones I’d chosen become unavailable to others. These were powerful emotions, and they covered up even more powerful ones – sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, failure, loneliness.

The problem with placating your emotions by consumption is that it’s fleeting. The planning, purchasing, waiting, unboxing, and initial use only distract you for so long. A few days, sometimes. When that phase is over every unresolved emotion is still buried in your heart, joined by the guilt of spending money that you don’t have on products you probably won’t use.

Because another side effect of the temporal buzz is the excess and waste. A blush, for example, takes so little product per use that one will sometimes last through years of daily wear. Did I mention that cosmetics are consumables that expire? If you don’t use them up completely in a few years they can lose pigmentation, change texture, or worse – start to grow harmful bacteria. There was no way I could use up products at the same rate I was purchasing them.

That’s how you end up with drawers of barely used makeup, which has another side effect: choice paralysis. I had so many things and was so overwhelmed that I stopped wearing it. Cue further guilt, and the cycle continued.

I wasn’t only purchasing makeup either. Clothing, accessories, candles. I’d go off on a tangent and start collecting. When one area began to overwhelm me, I switched to something else.

It took me a while to face this reality, despite having all of the hallmarks of a shopping addiction:

  • spending more than I could afford
  • shopping as a way to regulate emotions
  • feeling euphoric or anxious while shopping
  • experiencing guilt after making purchases
  • hiding products or receipts
  • lying about the price of items

Advertising had infiltrated my already overburdened mind, convincing me that I was inadequate in every way. It offered me a sense of control when everything else felt out of my hands. Shopping was a way to both distract me from life and to distract others from me. Nobody asked me if something was wrong when I had on a full face of makeup.

My life didn’t improve with the influx of things, like the ads suggested it would. If anything I felt worse the more I bought. My things owned me. Ads owned me. YouTubers owned me.

It’s uncomfortable to revisit this part of my past, because I’m ashamed that I let my mental health deteriorate to the point that shopping could hijack my life so completely. I spent thousands of dollars over the few years it escalated. A drop in the bucket compared to rent or tuition, but still money that would have been better spent elsewhere.

Eventually, after much trial and error and many ‘no buy’ months, I was able to curb my impulses. I had to stop browsing makeup reviews and reading about anticipated new products. I had to stop watching YouTube videos. I had to see a therapist about unresolved issues in my life. I had to develop better coping skills. Now I have about 10 makeup items total, I shop for them maybe once a year, and I rarely wear it anyway because I’m working on loving myself in the body and face that I have.

But I still need to be careful. I don’t think I’ll ever be at the point where I can consider myself truly recovered. If you knew me both now and then you would swear we were completely different people, but there’s still something inside of me that feeds on insecurity.

When I do buy something I need or want, it reignites those feelings of anticipation and desire for task completion. Sometimes it sets off a chain reaction of buying other things. I’m more mindful now, and can usually check myself when I’ve been spending too much, but it’s a constant reminder that I once lost control. I try not to let the shame spiral set in, because I know that will only make it worse.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have asked for help earlier, had I viewed excessive shopping to be as problematic as other addictions. ‘Shopaholic’ has a frivolous, guilty pleasure feel to it. We engage in ‘retail therapy’ – as if it could ever possibly stand in for real therapy. Whenever I saw someone overspend or compulsively shop, it was framed as a joke or a feminine character flaw. I didn’t take my mental health seriously and I didn’t take my problematic relationship with shopping seriously, so I struggled on my own.

If you’re struggling right now, here is a list of resources to learn more. You’re not alone. I hope you find your way out.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash



5 thoughts on “My Secret Past As A Shopping Addict”

  • Thanks for your honesty here 🙂 I love makeup, so I know a bit about the feelings you describe. I’ve cut myself off from buying much, tho, because like you I have more than enough to last a looooooong time (and enough variety to keep it interesting. I love my regular face, but I like playing with makeup a lot. I like to be a little sparkly.

    I have a huge stack of buyer’s remorse returns for Ikea that I need to drive down sometime soon. The itch when I was there matched a lot of what you talk about–“OMG LOOK AT THIS STUFF THIS IS NEW (to me) I MUST HAVE IT.” I don’t get that way often but organization stuff does me in.

    • I’m getting the feeling that this is a lot more common than I thought! I’m glad that we can all talk about it a bit more openly.

      I have a soft spot for organizational stuff as well. I’ve found that the best way to organize is to own less, so I’ve been trying to keep my possessions minimal. It’s tough to do though, because new.. shiny..

  • I’ve been in a similar spot too. I used to have a ridiculous obsession with Lululemon gear and would impatiently await the drop of new product every week (those jerks know how to suck you in!) I spent way too much money of items I would rarely wear because I just had too much stuff. The saving grace for me was that resale value was pretty good at that time and so I was able to sell a lot of items. I still look back with regret thinking of the money I wasted and could have been saving.

    • They certainly know how to encourage you to spend money – their marketing department is worth every penny!

      I try not to think too much about the money I spent, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind when I shop now.

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